Structured Work Systems

Structured Work Systems Strategy Protocol

What and Why:

A structured work system refers to the physical structure of a student’s work area as well as the physical structure of the activity itself.  Both a structured work environment and a structured work task tell the student what is expected of him/her during an activity, how much is supposed to be accomplished, and what happens after the activity is completed.  The work system is also organized in such a way that the person has little or no difficulty figuring out what to do.  The goal is to teach the person to work independently.


Materials used in structured work systems will vary.

Possible materials/furniture needed for structured work areas:

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  • Individual student desks or small tables
  • Partitions
  • Stackable work baskets
  • Plastic storage containers with drawers
  • Laminated numbers/pictures/colors with velcro to identify the order in which tasks are completed (these numbers can be placed on the student desk and/or on the work baskets or task drawers)

Possible materials needed for structured work tasks:

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  • Cardboard flats from soda cans
  • Egg cartons or ice cube trays
  • Empty plastic food containers (cool whip, butter, sour cream)
  • Manipulatives
  • Velcro
  • Laminating pouches
  • File Folders
  • Small baskets
  • Envelopes or small paper pouches

How and When to Implement:

  • When implementing a structured work system, the following student questions need to be answered:
    • What am I expected to do?
    • How much am I expected to do?
    • How will I know when I am finished?
    • Where do I put my finished work?
    • What will I get when I’m done or what do I do next?
  • Within a structured work systems, a student has identified independent work times and teacher work times.  After a teacher has introduced a new task during teacher work times and the student demonstrates mastery, that task can be moved to the independent work time.
  • Initially, a student may need guidance and teaching to navigate their structured work system, but ultimately the goal is for the student to use the system independently.

Things to Consider/Problem Solving:

  • It is imperative to keep work spaces and reward/play spaces separate.  This will help a student identify when and where work happens and when and where breaks, rewards and free time happen.
  • A student may need to build up his/her stamina for completing multiple jobs.
  • The team needs to carefully consider how and when tasks are taken apart.  Do not have the student take the task apart after he/she completes the task the teacher needs to evaluate the accuracy.  Staff should not take the task apart in front of the student.

Useful Resources to Learn More:

Tasks Galore

Autism Tasks

Structured Work Systems


Click to return to Best Practices for Supporting Students with Autism

Information compiled by Lincoln Public Schools Autism Team (September 2015)